ORTs first school in Mexico is history in the making


25 February 2010 ORTs first school in Mexico is history in the making A ceremony marking the affiliation of Mexicos oldest Jewish school with World ORT is seen as heralding the dawn of a new era in how the countrys Jewish community educates its children. More than 600 people gathered at the Colegio Israelita de Mexico (CIM) for the ceremony this week to witness what all agree is an historic moment in the development of the 40,000-strong community. Video greetings from ORT students and representatives of national ORT organisations welcomed the school into the ORT family. It is the first school in Mexico to affiliate with World ORT and marks the realisation of a long-held desire by ORT Mexico to have an ORT school in the country. From Left to Right: Carlos Glatt – Head of the School Communication Committee, Mario Becker – Vice-President of the School Board of Governors, Robert Singer, Mauricio Merikanskas, Dan Ostrosky – President of the School Board of Governors, Alejandro Fastag – Former President of the School Board of Governors and Current Member of the School Consulting Council. For the school, which is now known as CIM-ORT, and for ORT Mexico and World ORT, the immediate goal is to improve the quality of education by building on the programmatic and pedagogic reforms initiated since the signing of a cooperation agreement in May. But in doing so, CIM-ORT may set in motion dramatic changes in the communitys education system. This is a very, very important evolution, not only for the school but for the community, said the Chairman of the schools governing body, Dan Ostrosky. The world has changed in recent years and globalisation is the name of the game. Being part of World ORT means becoming part of a global network which will bring international best practice to our school. We will be able to raise the skills of our teachers and attract better teachers. Mr Ostrosky, a systems engineer with a Masters degree in artificial intelligence, has enjoyed a successful entrepreneurial career in technology spanning three decades. He appreciates the advantage which ORTs expertise in scientific and technological education can bring young people as they enter university and join the workforce. I am sure that affiliating to World ORT will make a great contribution to the employability of our students, he said. This is particularly important as recent socio-economic changes increase the pressure on Jewish children to be able to compete successfully. Traditionally, many parents would put their children into the family business no matter what their performance at school, said ORT Mexico President Arturo Merikanskas. That is no longer the case. In addition, there are families who are not doing so well so their children have to be well equipped to find good jobs with career potential straight out of school. While a strong education is more important than ever, Jewish schools in Mexico are seen as needing to improve the quality of their provision. Almost all Jewish children go to Jewish schools but parents make a sacrifice in doing that, said CIM-ORTs Vice President, Mario Becker. There are schools with higher educational standards, such as the American School, the French School and the Japanese School. As the economy changes, so parents are becoming much more aware of the need for a better education. With three children of his own at CIM-ORT, Mr Becker has a keen, intimate interest in improving the school. And he is certain that affiliating with ORT is the way to go. The reason why I have been promoting this union with ORT is because I want to give the best opportunities to our children. I want to see that by the time my children leave school they will be able to study whatever they want, here, in America or Israel, and be successful people thanks to the excellent education that the school will have been able to provide, he said. But the structure of the communitys education system is not seen as capable of meeting parents expectations of a major improvement in standards. There are 16 Jewish schools, each serving ethnic, religious and ideological sub-groups of the community; overcapacity and competition is seen as an obstacle to efficiency and efficacy. The creation of an ORT school in Mexico City will deliver opportunities for wider reform and advancement, said Jimmy Salinas, the National Director of ORT Mexico. The educational quality of Jewish schools in Mexico is not bad but it does need to improve a lot, Mr Salinas said. There are much better schools in Mexico but they are not Jewish. We want to differentiate CIM-ORT by raising the quality of its education so that parents will want to send their children to us rather anywhere else. We envision a scenario like ORTs return to the Former Soviet Union. There, ORT invested in the schools so that Jewish parents wanted to send their children there because of the quality of the education, not just because it was a Jewish school. Mr Merikanskas put the long term goal of the schools acceptance into the ORT family in a nutshell. We want the school to be the best Jewish school in Mexico but we also want it to be one of the best in Mexico, he said. In doing that, it is hoped to stimulate similar improvements in the other Jewish schools and enable the community to rationalise resources where individual schools are unable to lift their game. This is a dream come true, said the Chairman of World ORTs Board of Trustees, Mauricio Merikanskas. We expect CIM-ORT to be a world class school within three years. This is going to help the Jewish community and Mexico a lot. Collaboration between the school, which was founded in 1924, and ORT stretches back some 30 years. In that time, ORT has provided IT, science and technical training programmes and, four years ago, ORT Mexico inaugurated a Media Training Centre at the school which serves students from all the local Jewish day school as well as young adults seeking to widen their skills base. But since signing the cooperation agreement last year, CIM-ORT has enjoyed access to the World ORT network and its students and teachers have been able to participate in ORT activities, from competitions to exchanges and seminars. Mr Ostrosky and Mr Becker were part of a group which toured ORT Argentinas schools just days after the agreement was signed. We were very impressed with how the youngsters were studying with such enthusiasm and fell in love with the schools and the way they were teaching, Mr Becker said. We realised that this was what we wanted for our kids. Now, ORT Argentina is providing critical support to CIM-ORT, helping it to apply the programmes, curricula and technological tools which it has used with such great success. These include two-year post matriculation diploma courses which will equip teenagers to directly enter the workforce, laboratories for the studying of robotics, science, maths and languages, and comprehensive courses in Microsoft Office for junior students. Arturo Merikanskas said it was a complicated process for two educational organisations to unite in the way the school and ORT have done. And in a Jewish community which, like just about every other, is more used to communal organisations splitting and competing, it is truly historic to see such long-established entities coming together to work for a common purpose. We are very proud that we have accomplished this in one year, Mr Becker added. We are very excited and looking forward to being the best school in the ORT network. Were ready to roll! A key figure in the process has been the schools principal, Irit Barr, who is about to return to Israel having come to the end of her four-year term. Irit understands education and she knows the needs of our community, so when we started discussing this union she was very important in applying all the global knowledge locally, said Mr Ostrosky. She was able to make this happen quickly and with good results. Ms Barr is due to be replaced by Kalia Hilu, currently the Principal at the Western Galilee High School, one of more than 30 campuses supported by World ORTs programmatic arm in Israel, Kadima Mada. World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer attended the ceremony on Sunday, which featured an address by leading Mexican intellectual and social commentator Dr Andres Roemer. We are all extremely happy with this development, Mr Singer said. It is a win-win development for the community, for ORT Mexico, for the school and for World ORT.